While none of our orchestras managed a triple-treat of Douglas Lilburn's three symphonies in one concert, the composer's centenary year has made itself felt in concert halls, most recently with Michael Houstoun's magisterial account of the Chaconne.

Celebrating Lilburn was the culmination of a project that had NZTrio, surely this country's most indispensable chamber ensemble, working alongside five university music departments. In this concert, 10 shortish works, pared down from a list of 41, revealed a new generation of composers responding to the Lilburn legacy.

The sources of inspiration were various but a tendency to focus on the stoic, reserved Lilburn had momentum sometimes sacrificed to spare, etiolated textures.

Not so with Isaac Shatford's opening Aeroplanes over Aotearoa, time-tripping with the robust musical style of the young Lilburn.


For sheer brio it was irresistible; Sarah Watkins relished her Steinway ripples, while Justine Cormack and Ashley Brown seasoned proceedings with jaunty string exchanges.

Fourteen moments for three by Jeremy Mayall, a versatile composer who made his name with symphonic turntables, was the perfect signing-off.

Again, you could sense three musicians fired by the craftsmanship of this score, laying out Mayall's procession of crisply captured moods, vaguely linked to Lilburn electro-acoustic works. Faster pieces had purpose and irrevocability; the slower ones showed a composer more adept than some in ensuring that lean and exposed textures "come off". Trevor Coleman's Lilburn Blue was a saunter on the jazz side; inspired by an ambling Lilburn piano piece, this was a wily musical seduction, its hypnotically layered rhythms making up for some predictable harmonic moves.

Another remarkably persuasive piece was Caitlin Morris' The Song of Cloudy Bay/Te Koko-o-Kupe, with its atmospheric echoes of bird-calls and chants from the dawn of history.

Glen Downie's Extrapolation achieved the perfect mating of humour and brevity. Three bars of piano music, written by Lilburn as a thank-you for some gifted garden compost, were given an ingenious workout, running to barely 1min 20sec. The darting, pointillist textures recalled Webern, but with a real Kiwi punch. Douglas would have been bemused ... and chuffed.

What: NZTrio
Where: University Music Theatre
When: Friday
Reviewer: William Dart